MOSCOW, Idaho – Looking back at Idaho’s pro day in mid-March, James Baker thinks he could have run a faster 40-yard dash. Yet he also called his time of 4.55 seconds “perfect for me.”
He said both of these things because he logged the respectable 4.55 while at 6-foot, 237 pounds – the build of a punishing running back in the NFL. Which is one of several labels that Baker hopes will stick if a team scoops him up this weekend during or after the NFL draft.
After a nine-touchdown senior season with the Vandals, Baker could become the first Idaho player drafted since the Seahawks selected Korey Toomer in the fifth round in 2012. If not, he’ll sign a free-agent contract soon after the draft is over on Saturday.
“Possibly late round,” Baker said on Wednesday from Moscow. “That’s what I’ve been hearing. But I just want to be patient and see how everything unfolds.”
Baker has talked to 13 NFL teams since the first of April.
He’s also had private workouts in Moscow with the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins and visited two organizations – the Chiefs and Green Bay Packers.
He sees himself as more than an in-between-the-tackles runner in the pros. Last season, Baker led the Vandals with 593 rushing yards and nine TDs (six rushing, three receiving). He was also a reliable pass-catching threat, a skill that he further cemented during his audition in front of scouts on Idaho’s pro day.
“Several teams have mentioned my ability to catch the ball out of the backfield,” Baker said, “and I think that is one of my strengths. Being around 240 and being able to catch the ball downfield (and on) short passes and stuff like that, I pride myself on that.”
Baker credits his powerhouse pro day performance to Idaho strength and conditioning coach Jake Scharnhorst, who helped prepare him mentally and physically. He also appreciates the importance coach Paul Petrino put on practice – day in, day out – last fall.
The Deerfield Beach, Florida, native was held out of the Temple game last year after a subpar week of practices. Baker got the message, and his season took off after that.
“It just taught me how to practice harder, to compete every day in practice,” said Baker, who will graduate next week with a general studies degree. “Compete every day, get better and at the end of the day, can I ask myself, ‘Did you get better today?’ ”
The Vandals had at least one player drafted five straight years before the streak was snapped in 2013. … The last Idaho running back drafted was Russell Davis in 1982.